Despite controversy from some GOP leaders, thousands of people in Jackson County are voting via absentee ballot for the June 9 primary.
According to Jackson County elections director Jennifer Logan, over 10,000 people had requested an absentee ballot so far, a sign that a large number of voters want to avoid in-person voting amid the ongoing virus pandemic.
In 2016, Logan said only 192 people voted by absentee in the presidential preference primary and just 122 voted by mail in the regular local elections. A total of nearly 15,000 people in Jackson County voted in the presidential primary in 2016, most by in-person voting. Around 6,000 people in total voted in the local elections that year.
BALLOTS GOING OUT
Ballots began going out to some voters last week across the county. In March, the state had sent every Georgia voter a form to request an absentee ballot due to the virus. State officials also moved the Primary in-person voting date from May to June 9.
"We still encourage voters to vote absentee to avoid longer than usual lines and to help keep our staff and poll workers safe," Logan said.
Once a voter asks for an absentee ballot, county voting officers have to verify the signature and other information before a ballot can be mailed out. Logan's office has added extra employees from other county offices to help with the massive number of absentee ballot requests this year.
Logan also said a drop box is being installed at the elections board office on Gordon Street in Jefferson so that voters can manually drop off absentee ballots rather than mailing them back into the county.
ABSENTEE UNDER FIRE
But the expanded absentee ballot voting has come under fire from some Republicans who believe it will lead to fraud and could help Democratic opponents in close statewide races. President Trump has called absentee voting "corrupt," although some states are doing only absentee ballots in this election.
The issue hit locally after the Jackson County Board of Elections voted to call on the state to only do absentee voting for the June 9 election due to the potential to spread the virus with in-person voting.
That move was met with protest by some local Republican leaders who called for the resignation of board member Erma Denney, a Republican appointee, who championed the move for absentee voting.
In some areas of the state this year, wrong absentee ballots have been mailed out by the state's ballot vendor. A lawsuit was filed April 30 by one group wanting to again delay the June election to give more time for the state to fix problems and prepare for in-person voting.
For those who don't want to vote absentee, early in-person voting is slated to be held in Jefferson May 18 to June 5 at the Gordon Street Center. On Saturday, May 30, there will also be early in-person voting from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Gordon Street.
Unless the state makes another change, final in-person voting will be held on June 9 in the county's four precinct locations.
Some people had completed early voting in March for the presidential preference primary. When those people request a ballot, they will be given only the local and state races to vote on.
For those who did not vote in the presidential preference primary early, they will get both that ballot and the local ballot to complete.
For the most part, the presidential preference primaries are already decided — Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and Joe Biden will likely be the Democratic nominee, although multiple candidates still appear on the Democratic ballot.
Locally, there are a number of state and county races on the Republican ballot. Among the key races for June 9 are: Nine GOP candidates vying for the 9th Congressional District to replace Rep. Doug Collins; six candidates running for the Republican nomination for the 50th District in the Georgia State Senate; and contested county races for Sheriff, Tax Commissioner, Coroner, and Solicitor of the State Court.
There are also two contested races for state Supreme Court Justices on the non-partisan ballot.
The hotly-contested race for the U.S. Senate to replace retired Sen. Johnny Isakson won't be until November when a special election will be held with a field of candidates that include both Republicans and Democrats.
In addition to the candidate races, the Republican ballot also has six non-binding questions. Among the questions are: Should local board of education candidates be required to declare a political party? Can Jackson County's current seven EMS stations handle the county's rapid growth? Should the Republican Primary voting be limited to only registered Republicans? Does Jackson County need to have more than four voting precincts? Should Jackson County's multiple fire districts be consolidated? Should state education funds be allowed to follow the student even to private schools?
For those voting a Democratic ballot, three contested state contests to be decided: Who will be the Democratic nominee for the US. Senate to face Republican David Perdue; who will be the Democratic nominee for public service commissioner; and who will the Democratic nominee for the 9th Congressional District.
The Democratic ballot also has six questions, but none of a local nature. All six Democratic questions are from the state party and deal with climate change, voting regulations, redistricting, and the state's cash bail system.